03 October 2007

If You Think It's Dirty Now

I am currently reading A Magnificent Catastrophe by Edward J. Larson about the political campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that so clouded their former friendship at the time of the American Revolution that they did not speak for decades after the election and only resumed writing to each other in their final years. The bitter infighting was so bad that it set up the current wide division between political parties and forever turned elections into contentious battles rather than gentlemanly group discussions of enlightened philosophy that was their ideal.

Imagine learning that this towering battle between founding fathers and heads of opposing powers is only ranked fourth in hard fought, contentious, and bruising campaigns. Here is the rundown from fifth to first (Winners of the elections are listed first) with some of the shenanigans:

1972 - Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern - (IRS intimidation of Democratic big wigs, the Enemies List, press manipulation, and, of course, the Watergate burglary by the Special Investigations Unit, aka "the Plumbers.")

1800 - Thomas Jefferson vs. John Adams - (Adams accused of being a "hideous hermaphroditical character", Jefferson's sexual relations with slaves, and an election thrown into the House of Representatives, where Jefferson almost certainly made a secret deal to win it all.

2000 - George W. Bush vs. Al Gore - Republicans acting in a truly narrow, partisan fashion at every stage to subvert the democratic process and hand victory to George W. Bush. Charges of racism and voting fraud against Bush. - Hanging chads and Supreme Court anyone?

1964 - Lyndon Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater - Anti-Goldwater stories planted in newspapers; children's coloring books portraying Goldwater as a Klansman; CIA invasion of Goldwater's campaign; FBI bugging of Goldwater's campaign plane, and the famous daisy commercial.

And the most destructive election of them all?

There they are. Don't they look like nice, respectable gentlemen? Couldn't you easily believe they are each someone's kindly great grandfather hanging on the family tree? Why one is even a President of the United States. Which one? Well that is a little difficult since one served and one won, and the outcome is still referred to as "The Stolen Election". Number one is the contest between Rutherford B. Hayes (bearded) and Samuel Tilden (clean shaven).

1876: Rutherford Hayes vs. Samuel Tilden -- This is the granddaddy of them all: a truly stolen election in which Republicans turned defeat into victory for Rutherford Hayes. Democratic votes were miscounted in the Southern states. Both parties used violence to intimidate former black slaves. Republicans extorted money from the salaries of Federal employees while Democrats accused Hayes of shooting his mother and robbing the dead, and Republicans claimed that Samuel Tilden suffered from venereal disease.

So the next time you think the mud slinging is just too much to stand and no sane person wants to have anything to do with politics consider Hayes and Tilden. It could get worse, it could get better. Either way, the nation will probably survive.